25. November 2005

Proposed law seen as threat to operation of NGOs in Russia

As finnish paper HELSINGIN SANOMAT reports, a new law in Russia could make the work of independent russian NGOs more difficult. Also AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL raises a voice of concern.

"Finnish and international civic organisations have expressed concern over their possibilities to continue operating in Russia in the future. The Russian Parliament is preparing to pass a law that would place tight restrictions on the activiteis of non-governmental organisations in the country. President Vladimir Putin expressed his support for the proposed bill in an interview on a newscast on the television channel Rossija on Thursday. He also promised to hold further discussions on the details of the bill with the senior members of the Duma.

The law, which would require all NGOs to register with the Ministry of Justice, could come into effect in 2007. The NGOs anticipate difficulties particularly for human rights and environmental activists, as well as for religious groups. However, the new law is not expected to cause many problems for social and health work, which the majority of Finnish organisations in Russia are involved in.

Nevertheless, Frank Johansson, executive director of the Finnish section of Amnesty International, sees the proposed law as very alarming. "This bill is likely to result in quite an extensive dampening of the operation of free civic organisations in various parts of the Russian Federation", notes Johansson. While Amnesty International in Finland does not expect the new law to have any effect on its own operation, it could substantially hamper the work of Amnesty’s press office in Russia. Furthermore, there is a risk that certain Russian cooperative organisations which are funded by various foundations could be closed down, argues Johansson. The Russian cooperative partners are the main concern of other civic organisations as well, even though nobody knows yet what the consequences of the proposed new law will eventually be.

"The Russian organisations have warned us that the new bill could lead to problems, hence hampering our cooperation", notes Merja Hannus, the Secretary General of the Finland-Russia Society. The society is carrying out tasks related to various issues including social equality, and training civic organisations in Russia. The Vaaka association is a Finnish voluntary group whose activities include collecting baby clothes to be delivered to Russian Karelia. "We have no Russian staff and no office in Russia, but we trust that we will be allowed to operate quite freely from Finland", says Tiina Seppälä of Vaaka. Project Manager Lea Ylitalo of Karjalan Apu ("Karelian Aid") believes that the forthcoming changes will not much apply to the Russian operations of social and health groups.Arja Käyhty of the Dikoni project agrees. "Our work has met a very positive response in Russia, for we have not expressed any criticism that would undermine the foundations of Russian society", Käyhty concludes."

"Russian Federation: Draft law -- the latest in clampdown on civil society", writes AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL on the same issue. "By allowing government officials to deny registration to NGO's according to such vague criteria, there is a grave risk that decisions on which organisations are allowed or banned will be politically motivated," said Nicola Duckworth.

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